It’s interesting that scripture exhorts us both to be like children, and not to be like children.
I was always puzzled as a kindergartner by the picture we had in the church sanctuary where we had weekly chapel. It portrayed Jesus saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto me” (Mark 10:14). I thought “suffer” meant pain, so I wasn’t sure what this was about. Of course the King James Bible uses “suffer” in the sense of “allow” or “permit,” and this is a great invitation from Jesus for children to come to him and be blessed.
Many evangelicals believe in child evangelism. Researcher George Barna found that 43 percent of “born again” Christians came to faith by age 12, and 64 percent by age 18.
Jesus proceeded in Mark’s gospel to insist that everyone must come to faith as children do: “Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (v. 15). Jesus referred to genuine humility and absolute trust. Children aren’t burdened with self-image in the way adults are.
Numbers of adults to whom I’ve spoken over the years resist declaring faith because of personal embarrassment over what others might think (though the congregation of God’s people would certainly rejoice in all conversions). Children most often don’t wrestle with pride as adults do.
But the scripture also exhorts Christians not to be childish (Ephesians 4:14). Children can be childish at times! Parents may have to break up fights when they hear, “Mommy, Sallie made a face at me,” or “Johnny hid my toy.”
Regrettably, many of our churches have witnessed childish behavior over the years. I’ve known some who grew upset when someone allegedly “made at face” at them or when they didn’t get their choice of paint or carpet! Surely the kingdom of God is bigger than this.
Dr. John Killinger, formerly of Beeson Divinity School, in his book, “The Other Preacher in Lynchburg,” told the most amazing story I’ve heard in this regard. A blue-blooded matriarch sent word that only sheep manure should be used on the church’s rose garden. Killinger said the scheduled business conference lasted two hours as the congregation discussed the virtue of sheep manure vs. cow manure. Oh, my. I’m not sure why someone didn’t respectfully say, whereas beautiful roses are nice, the grounds crew could handle this. And roses have nothing to do with our primary mission to serve a broken world. As Ron Lewis said years ago, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
There is a major difference in being childlike and childish. We need the wisdom of God to know the difference and live the difference.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.